Asia has won me over in several ways. Everyone so polite and orderly. The food is great. And the Japanese have yet to discover a thing they can't render adorable and cartoonesque. There does seem to be an exception forming though to my general love of all things Asian: the theater.
You may recall that my second piece of advice regarding attending the Cantonese opera was "Do not go to the Cantonese opera."
We'd been meaning though to check out the National Theatre of Okinawa. There's a big poster of it in the baggage claim area of the airport in Naha and every time we're waiting for our luggage, we say we should really go there and see a show sometime. For our anniversary, Raj got me tickets to traditional Ryukyuan* dance performance there.
*Before being conquered by Japan, the islands that are now the Okinawan prefecture were the Kingdom of Ryukyu.
The building itself is quite impressive. It's a gigantic concrete structure (the better to weather typhoons) that appears to be made of huge palm leaves.
The large theater, where we saw our performance was also quite pretty.
There were some lovely, elaborate costumes.
This is where I stop having anything complimentary to say about it. You know how ballet dancers generally wear tight and skimpy outfits? That way you can better see all of the movements. So right off the bat, you can see that Ryukyuan dance is different, in that each dancer is usually wearing a kimono with a second, even larger robe over top. The better to obscure almost every motion.
You see the guy's red sock sticking out from under the gigantic robe? That, right there, comprised about 90% of the action involved in the performance. If I'm exaggerating, it's not by much.
The music would begin and a few minutes later, I'd think, "They forgot to have somebody dance to this one." But no, it was just taking the dancer THAT long to slowly shuffle onstage. Sliiiiiiiiide one sock out, pop the toes upward ever so slightly, sliiiiiiide the other foot out...
Once they finally got to the center of the stage, the dance didn't get a lot more action-packed. Sliiiiiiiide left foot out to 45 degree angle. Bend knees. Straighten. Pull foot back under enormous garment. Slowly turn 180 degrees. Slowly shuffle away from audience a few steps. Raise right arm (slowly, of course). Turn 180 degrees toward audience. Lower arm. And so on.
I bet you think I'm exaggerating. Not so. Here's (soporific) proof.
Maybe you have trouble falling asleep? Seven minutes of this should fix you right up.
One dancer came out with a closed up parasol. She spent the first part of her dance (slowly) raising the hand holding the parasol, then lowering it. Then raising her other hand that held a ribbon, then lowering it. I have a parasol. I have a ribbon. I am conflicted about them. was the message I took from this section. Then she draped the ribbon over her shoulder and opened the parasol. She put the hand not holding the handle up on the parasol itself as if to spin it. It's a testament to my boredom at this point in the performance that the idea of the dancer spinning the parasol sounded kind of exciting. Alas, no. The hand was to steady the parasol, to make good and sure it didn't move. Wouldn't want to overstimulate the crowd.
The real low, boredeom-wise, though was Raj's attempt to inject suspense into the performance by mentally betting on whether the performer would turn at any given point. This was a particularly salient question when the performer seemed to be shuffling in the direction of off stage. Sometimes, they'd turn instead and then the dance, such as it was, would continue. When it became clear they were, in fact, exiting the stage, we'd all applaud. Then applaud again when they actually reached the edge of the stage. Because it took that long to get there.
At intermission, we attempted to interpret our program to figure out how far into the performance we might be. We may have been the only gaijin (think "gringo") in the theater, but we weren't the only antsy ones. Everyone around us was checking their program after each post-intermission dance to count down how many were left.
The intermission also gave us time to discuss a creature depicted on the blue backdrop you can kind of see in the theater photo above. Sort of like a turtle, crossed with a snail and an armadillo. And a peacock. A turtle-snockadillo is what it is. According to me. Because it's fun to say.
I don't think it was the word turtlesnockadillo that did it, but something in the performance after intermission caused Raj to start laughing and I started laughing and then I had horrible visions of us getting uncontrollable giggles and being ejected from the theater, causing an international incident. I hissed you have to stop and we got it together.
Finally, two and a half hours later, the last dancer shuffled offstage. Mercifully, they did not shuffle back on for applause. We attempted a self-portrait outside the theater, where we're both plainly still a little bit glazed over.
We then enjoyed the orderly traffic flow out of the parking lot and some delicious Indian food. And maybe swore off Asian theater. For a while at least.